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Budget-Cutting Layoffs Begin In State Government Health And Welfare To Lose 50-75 Workers

The Health and Welfare Department is laying off up to 75 employees as the Batt administration’s drive to reduce the size of state government takes hold.

“We estimated that by June, and it will take that long for the process to completely unfold, we will be looking at layoffs in the range of 50 to 75 people,” spokeswoman Mary Keltz said on Tuesday. “The total savings from all of the actions taken in the current year and the coming year is $4.8 million.”

With an employee count for the coming budget year of just under 3,900 full-time workers, the Health and Welfare Department is the largest of all state departments and the one hardest hit by Gov. Phil Batt’s campaign to check the growth of the state payroll.

Keltz said the jobs being eliminated range up to the bureau chief level as some department operations are reorganized and streamlined. A third of the layoffs are targeted for the department’s central administration.

The actual people who lose their jobs will depend on seniority and whether those whose jobs are being eliminated decide to transfer to another job, bumping the person holding it.

As part of the process, Director Linda Caballero said adult services for developmentally disabled people are being turned over to private operators and the Division of Health is shutting down three of its six laboratories.

Division Director Richard Schultz said the laboratories in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Lewiston will be closed by June 17.

Branch labs in Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello and the central laboratory in Boise will remain in operation.

“We’re downsizing laboratory services, and the reason is that utilization is declining from a clinical standpoint,” Schultz said.

The role of the laboratories in medical testing for venereal disease and in other cases has changed dramatically as those tests become more readily available elsewhere, Schultz said, while water testing can be easily handled by the increasing number of private laboratories.

He said clinical tests from the regions losing their laboratories could still be shipped to the remaining labs for processing. But Schultz said the state hopes that private laboratories will take over the water testing responsibilities around the state.